While working on my debut short horror story collection, I learned that one of the most important things a writer can do is very simple: READ. Read as much as you can, as often as you can. It’s the absolute best way to improve your craft. And in doing so, I found myself discovering (and rediscovering) some absolute gems in the horror genre. So here they are, just for you: the spookiest, most blood-curdling short stories I’ve ever read. Turn down the lights, grab one of these tales, and prepare to be scared.
Lunch At The Gotham Café
from Everything’s Eventual by Stephen King
“Eeeeeee. Eeeeeee. Eeeeeee.” This is one of the most unsettling stories I’ve ever come across. I’m not sure what’s worse: the insane maître d’, the graphic violence, or the coldness of a marriage that’s utterly fallen apart. Perfect to read on a patio at your neighborhood bistro (while keeping a close eye on the wait staff).
from Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
While Haunted isn’t necessarily a short story collection per se (as the tales all add up to the overall plot of the novel) it’s still full of fantastic shorts that can stand on their own. Told by a woman who calls herself Baroness Frostbite, this is a jarring tale that will chill you to the bone… almost literally.
The Dreams In The Witch House
by H.P. Lovecraft
Part of the Cthulhu mythos, this one explores some of the more occult backgrounds of Lovecraft’s insanely complex world. An interesting spin on the “haunted house” trope, find out what’s been going on in the Witch House… and stick around for one of the most satisfying endings in horror history.
from The Collector Of Hearts by Joyce Carol Oates
I’ve mentioned this story before and I have to mention it again because jfc it is so damn scary. Imagine trying to recall a dim childhood memory that you repressed — for good reason. Doubt, bizarre circumstances, and the terror of being young and powerless. And you can’t even give it a name. Terrifying.
from More Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark by Alvin Schwartz
I think I read this for the first time when I was 8. Safe to say, it scarred me for life. It’s short, simple, to the point — but there’s no resolution. You can’t do that to a little kid! We need closure!
The Cask of Amontillado
by Edgar Allan Poe
One of the literary classics, this is an age-old tale about revenge and the cruelty of man at its finest. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is obviously a contender, too, but I think the image of a screaming man being encased behind a brick wall is far scarier than a paranoid guilty murderer. You can read this here since it’s considered public domain!
Best New Horror
from 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
I love this one because it speaks to horror lovers specifically. There’s also a story within a story, which is always fun. More bang for your buck! Stephen King’s progeny comes through once again.
by Shirley Jackson
There’s not much to say about this. It’s perfect. If you didn’t read it in high school (for shame) you gotta read it now. NOW I SAY! (And look, since it’s in the public domain, you can do that right here!)
There Will Come Soft Rains
from The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Another high-school-lit staple, this one’s less all-out scary and more subtle. But that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile. Also, it takes place in 2026, so I guess we don’t have much more time before the eventual world-ending nuke! Hooray!
from Skeleton Crew by Stephen King
Honestly, this might be it. It might be my favorite short horror story of all time. Told through two narratives, King’s exploration of time-travel and warping abilities is both interesting and horrifying. Not to mention the unforgettable line towards the end: “Longer than you think, Dad! Longer than you think!” Pure perfection.